Moving a News Website to a Different Content Management System

How does a small but nationally visible non-profit organisation go about moving their news-focused website to a different content management system? A good friend of mine works for a non-profit news organisation and asked me this question recently, so I put together some very brief notes based on some of the website migrations I have done over the last few years for similar organisations (a charity, an industry trade body, and a specialist news publisher).

moving books

The client being a small non-profit organisation constrains the solution to license-free (non-commercial) content management system (CMS), because at an industry standard of around $20k and upwards, the license costs for commercial CMS products tend to be out of the range of small non-profit budgets.

There are therefore five key things to consider for migrating an existing news-focused website for a non-profit organisation to a new CMS:

  1. What open-source technology should you use?
  2. To what extent should you customise the technology and how?
  3. What is a reasonable cost – one-off and ongoing support?
  4. Who should undertake the implementation?
  5. Where should the site be hosted?

There are plenty of other problems to solve once the initial decisions have been taken, but for a simple, news-focused website, with content only in English, we don’t need to worry about managing translations or dealing with transactional workflows. So what’s next?

Continue reading Moving a News Website to a Different Content Management System

Blogger to remove Publish via FTP

As I suspected some time ago, but at a much later time than I thought, Google is finally going to switch off the “Publish via FTP” option from Blogger (http://blogger-ftp.blogspot.com/2010/01/deprecating-ftp.html, http://blogger-ftp.blogspot.com/), causing much ranting on Twitter


The FTP feature was great, in that you got all the benefits of the Blogger editor interface, but all the files were published as flat files to a custom web server. Better still, you could cajole Blogger into saving the files as PHP, thereby providing a cunning integration with flat-HTML websites, without the use of a database or blogging software installed on the server.

Apparently, this caused Blogger a great deal of headache, particularly in resolving support incidents: only .5% of active blogs used FTP for publishing (although I bet all those were “real” blogs, rather than spam or SEO-drivers).

I think this means we’ll need to install the blogging software on our servers, software such as WordPress (http://wordpress.org/). We need a mechanism which allows PHP scripts, so that the content can be embedded within the website itself, not hosted at some crummy http://blog.domain.com/ separate domain. This rules out the Google Custom Domain option.

Less than two months’ notice is not great, but hopefully we should be able to improve on Blogger anyhow.

Integrating Blogger and PHP

As part of my ’10 pages or less’ website framework, I needed to integrate Blogger with PHP. Blogger can publish to an FTP server (instead of BlogSpot, and so news and blog content can be included within a ‘real’ site, but the management overhead solved by Blogger.

Here is how to get Blogger working with PHP:

  1. Set up your blog to publish via FTP (on Publishing tab)
  2. Change the ‘Blog Filename’ to index.php
  3. Change ‘Archive Filename’ to archive.php (on Archiving tab)
  4. Finally, delete the old index.html file from the blog directory (otherwise it will probably take precedence over the new index.php)

You can then edit the blog Template to include all the standard PHP includes to match the rest of the site.

Simple CMS Frameworks

I have some experience with using DotNetNuke as a CMS. It’s free, open-source, and has pretty good engineering. There are plenty of add-on modules available from sites like Snowcovered. Some of the UI elements are irritating: like a lot of early ASP.NET sites, there are too many postbacks, but it works well in general, and is easy to manage.

Community Server is targetted at a different market, and is ready-made for a typical portal site, with blogs, file downloads, forums etc.; whereas DNN is more like a toolbox, Community Server is one of those 5-in-1 screwdriver/drill combos. The asp.net site now runs Community Server, not surprising, since both are Microsoft-driven.

CMSs like PHP-Nuke are hopelessly out of date and riddled with bugs. In 2006 there is no excuse for having any SQL Injection vulns in web applications. Just do not execute raw SQL from the code: use Stored Procedures and parameters!

Joomla! is a fresh effort built on the base of Mambo, and is so far free of major bugs. It supports a flexible templating system, and has a bunch of nice features out of the can. It is, however, written in PHP, which is not very secure; PHP is seen by many as the scourge of the internet.

Mail: Enabled

At this point, I am inclined to decide that SMTP stands for “Stoopid Mother Truckin’ Program”, after some frankly bizarre shenanigens with SMTP on one particluar server. Thankfully, MailEnable came to the rescue. This is a well-engineered bit of software, and best of all, it’s free, even for commercial use (Enterprise users pay for high-end features).

The difficulties arose with a DotNetNuke installation, incombination with some stubbornly unconfigurable SMTP services. FOr example, the main SMTP server on the machine could not be configured to talk to web applications, and a second SMTP server program was available to do this, on another port (i.e. not port 25).

HOWEVER, it turns out that DNN does not allow you to specify an SMTP server on a port except port 25. In other words, a setting like this will not have the desired effect:

localhost:587

The port is ignored by the System.Web.Mail.SmtpMail class as used by DNN. I checked the source for DNN 3.2.2, and the port number is NOT parsed out from the servername string. This seems to me to be a serious limitation. A line or two of extra code would enable mail sending on alternative ports: parse out the port number, and if its there, set the port explicitly for the mail message before sending:

' line 152 or Mail.vb:

' external SMTP server
If SMTPServer  "" Then

' TODO: parse out port number here

    Web.Mail.SmtpMail.SmtpServer = SMTPServer
        Select Case SMTPAuthentication
            Case "", "0" ' anonymous
            Case "1" ' basic
                If SMTPUsername  "" And SMTPPassword  "" Then
                    objMail.Fields("http://schemas.microsoft.com/ cdo/configuration/smtpauthenticate") = 1
                    objMail.Fields("http://schemas.microsoft.com/ cdo/configuration/sendusername") = SMTPUsername
                    objMail.Fields("http://schemas.microsoft.com/ cdo/configuration/sendpassword") = SMTPPassword

' TODO: Insert port here...

                 End If
            Case "2" ' NTLM
                    objMail.Fields("http://schemas.microsoft.com/ cdo/configuration/smtpauthenticate") = 2
        End Select
End If

So I was left having to use a server on the default port 25, but with only a single machine it’s tricky to get SmartHost relaying working properly (in fact, it might be impossible – I haven’t checked the RFCs).

In the end, I disabled the two existing SMTP servers, and installed MailEnable from http://www.mailenable.com/standard_edition.asp – it is very easy to use and configure. Crucially, it can listen on two different ports, and had no limitation with respect to web applications.

I highly recommend it if you are having similar problems.